InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Modeling Earth Systems > Course Overview
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Modeling Earth Systems Course

Course Goals:
  1. Students will be able to create a model of a dynamic Earth system.
  2. Students will be able to use a model to make a predictive hypothesis and then test that hypothesis through experimentation.
  3. Students will be able to critique and make judgments about the uses and limitations of models.
  4. Students will be able to explain the main components, feedbacks, and forcings of the global climate system, including the role of humans as one of the principal forcings.

Course Summative Assessment:

Create a model of an Earth system that relates to climate change, beginning with a conceptual description of the system components, including processes, feedbacks, etc., transforming that conceptual model into a graphical representation of the system, along with the units of fluxes, reservoirs, that would lead to a more mathematical description of the system in the form of a set of simple equations. The students then use the models as a basis for predicting how the system would respond to a change, with an explanation of why the system will evolve the way it does. Students will use the results of their models to discuss the implications and human consequences of this aspect of climate change, presenting this discussion in the form of an op-ed letter to the newspaper.

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

This is an intermediate to advanced course that gives students the opportunity to use and develop computational models using the software program STELLA. The models become more complex and interdisciplinary throughout the course.

Note to Instructors:

This course relies heavily on the use of STELLA Professional, an iconographic modeling software package. STELLA can be purchased from isee systems, which offers educational pricing. We originally developed these materials for STELLA v. 10; the professional package came out during the course development process, and we revised materials to use the new version. If you would like course materials or model files for STELLA 10, please contact one of the course authors.

For those learning to use STELLA, we suggest the online "play-along" tutorials from isee systems. You can find them here: isee Systems Tutorials. isee systems is in the process of developing the tutorials for the Professional version.

Unit 1 Introduction to Modeling Dynamic Systems

In this unit we introduce students to the reasons why Earth and environmental scientists use numerical modeling as a tool for understanding complex systems, and we teach them how to use the STELLA software that we will employ for model construction throughout the semester.
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Unit 2 Modeling Population

In this unit, students create three different STELLA models to explore a variety of concepts related to population growth and resource use.
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Unit 3 Simple Climate Models

Students will explore Earth's radiation budget using several versions of a simple climate model often referred to as a "layer model."
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Unit 4 Daisyworld

Students explore Daisyworld, a model of a self-regulating system incorporating positive and negative feedbacks.
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Unit 5 Growth and Decay of Ice Sheets

In this module, we first review the importance of these ice sheets and how the model emerges from some simple assumptions about ice flow. We then review some basic things about orbital variations and the resulting changes in insolation, and how those insolation changes are likely to affect something like an ice sheet. Students are then guided through the construction of the model and carry out a series of experiments with the model to learn how the ice sheet responds to changes.
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Unit 6 Hydrologic Balance and Climate Change

In this unit, students create a STELLA model of the Owens River chain of lakes in eastern California and then experiment with different climate change scenarios to simulate the Pleistocene history of lake filling and overflow.
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Unit 7 Heat Flow in Permafrost

In this unit, students create a STELLA model of heat flow in the top 1 km of Earth's crust to explore the use of Arctic borehole temperature profiles as recorders of anthropogenic warming.
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Unit 8 Thermohaline Circulation

In this module, students first review some background material on density-driven deep currents in the oceans, and then create a STELLA model of the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic Ocean.
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Unit 9 Carbon Cycle and Ocean Chemistry

In this module, students first review some background material on the terrestrial, marine, and anthropogenic processes involved in the storage and transfer of carbon in the Earth system. The students then build a simple carbon cycle of their own in STELLA and after a few experiments with the basic version, they download a more complex version that includes a fairly complete representation of the carbonate chemistry of seawater, and is coupled to a simple climate model.
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Unit 10 Coupled Economic and Environmental Models

In this exercise, students will explore a model of the most well known example of the Tragedy of the Commons, that of sheep grazing on commonly owned land. Students will experiment with different mechanisms for regulating the commons, and will be introduced to the economic concept of discounting as it applies to comparing costs or benefits between two time periods.
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Adapting the Course to Different Structures, Formats, and Schedules

The course may be taught in its entirety, or individual modules may be extracted for use within other courses. This course works well as a "blended" course, with the modules being completed at home and the activities being completed or presented in a weekly in-person class meeting. It could also be taught entirely online, or the activities could be used in conjunction with lectures developed by the instructor to introduce the relevant concepts in a traditional lecture-based course.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »